A Dreamliner Come True: Boeing 787 flies for the first time
“The airplane flew beautifully. There were no surprises”, said Randall Neville on 15 December 2009, one of the test pilots who commanded the flight of Boeing’s new wide-body aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. Such was the confidence shown by Boeing staff in commemorating this major milestone. The Dreamliner is a 10-year, 10 billion (USD) investment program by the veteran American aircraft manufacturer.
The excitement was felt in far-away Lagos, Nigeria. Reason? A loyal Boeing customer, Arik Air, is a step closer towards making the statement in Nigerian civil aviation by accepting its 787s in 2016. Around the world, thousands of aerospace workers, airline professionals and enthusiasts watched the aircraft live on television or the internet as it accelerated on the runway and lifted off successfully on its maiden test flight. All agreed: the Boeing 787 is a beautiful manifestation of 21st century technology. Even Boeing’s fierce arch-rival Airbus called in to congratulate the Boeing team for achieving this feat, a rare occurrence!
A global 840-strong order for this aircraft is clearly a vote-of-confidence in an aircraft that is quite revolutionary. Among the orders are seven (7) frames ordered by Nigeria’s rising star: Arik Air. These will be powered by General Electric’s GEnx engines.
The Dreamliner program experienced several glitches which delayed the first flight by more than 2 years. These included side-of-body structural re-design, overseas supplier issues, labor strikes among others which were eventually sorted out. What remains till Japanese launch customer airline All Nippon Airways receives its first aircraft towards the end of 2010, is a critical flight testing program involving a fleet of six Boeing 787s flying around the clock, all working towards aircraft certification prior to customer deliveries.
Historically, there had been one major shift in aircraft materials used by manufacturers, and that was the replacement of wood and fabric with metal. The Boeing 787 however, marks another shift where the metal is replaced by composites, high-performance engineered materials that are light weight yet strong enough to withstand harsh loading conditions. This means the same number of passengers will be flown by an aircraft that is lighter in weight, fuel-efficient and therefore environmentally friendlier.
Boeing made sure it listened to the traveling public’s advice in designing its latest jet. This has translated into a final design that includes larger windows located at eye level for the first time, cabin air filtration system for clean, moist air, larger overhead bins, among other innovations.
Commercially speaking, Nigerians are known to like all things BIG. As such, the 787’s large overhead bins will be capable of accommodating the largest of “Ghana-Must-Go” bags! In my opinion, Arik Air would hit the bull’s-eye by paying very closely to the needs and culture of its guests. As said above, the larger bins can be capitalized upon. Additionally, the premium passengers on board as well as businessmen shuttling back and forth to Nigeria would likely expect a total game changer including internet, quick IP telephony, and perhaps some business services. A customized, edgy/chique, African-inspired interior is to be expected and Arik Air has reportedly engaged the services of James Park Associates for the assignment. In every aspect, watch out for an Arik Air Statement.
The exact variant ordered by Arik is the Boeing 787-900 series, which is a stretched version fitted with an extra fuel-tank, allowing for more passengers to be transported over a greater distance exceeding 15,000 kMs. Such specifications will allow for nonstop flights to be operated from Lagos to far-away destinations as Los Angeles, Tokyo or even Sydney in favorable wind-conditions. Even though delivery of Arik’s Dreamliner fleet won’t be expected till 2016, its benefits in promoting the growth of the airline and improving its guests’ comfort are eagerly awaited.
The long haul aircraft order placed by Arik also includes five (5) Boeing 777-300ERs, an extended-range and stretched version of the Boeing 777. Having a comparable range to the 787-900 model, it is likely that Arik’s 777-300ER will be deployed on long-haul routes with higher market demand such those to New York, Houston, London and Singapore. Meanwhile, the 787-900 is more suited for thinner, ultra-long haul routes such as Lagos-Los Angeles / Tokyo / Sydney. The Dreamliner’s economical philosophy is basically to offer more frequent point-to-point services in an aircraft having a relatively smaller capacity when compared to the Boeing 777 or 747-400/-8. From that angle, it is a right-size aircraft for new markets which Arik Air might entertain in the future (Lagos-Sao Paulo is an example).
This strategy is well suited for Arik Air as the airline seeks to expand its long-haul network in uncharted territory. There had never been any scheduled nonstop routes linking West Africa to far away points in the Far East, the US West Coast or Australia. As the airline matures and develops its short-haul feeding network from its Lagos and Abuja hubs in the coming few years, the airline will be well prepared in 2016 onwards to commence these long haul flights while offering convenient connections to African travelers.
The recent global financial crisis has somewhat slowed down Arik Air’s planned intercontinental expansion. As bank liquidity dries up, major lending institutions have had to hit the brake pads on financing major aircraft acquisitions, often reflecting their own state of affairs rather than the airline’s health. Consequently, actual deliveries of narrow-body Boeing 737-800/900s have not been in par with previous growth forecasts.
Arik’s recent track record, however, in delivering consistently on its promises in providing world-class services on short and long haul routes, has had profound market response both locally and in overseas new markets such as New York, London and Johannesburg. All indicators point to impressive success, and assuming steady economic recovery worldwide and a return to higher economic growth in Nigeria and elsewhere, there will be a need to expedite the delivery of Arik Air’s fleet of Boeing jets ■